Sixties Sheffield’s nights in the city

Peter Stringfellow at his Mojo club in 1965
Peter Stringfellow at his Mojo club in 1965
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Dirty Stop Out’s Guide to 1960s Sheffield tells the story of one of Steel City’s most exciting decades. Author Neil Anderson on the book

The Sixties night scene underwent some of the most radical changes imaginable as the post-war austerity years paled into insignificance and teenage pop and fashion culture came to prominence like never before.

It was the era that saw the start of a Sheffield influence that would eventually be felt right around the globe with the rise of nightclub impresario Peter Stringfellow, blues singer Joe Cocker, Sixties chart star Dave Berry and scores of other home-grown talent.

Some of most exciting and happening places were, bizarrely, alcohol-free and aimed purely at teenagers.

They found independence like never before and pledged their allegiance to one of two Steel City venues (you were either one or the other, never both): the Esquire, which boasted Jimmy Savile on the decks, and Peter Stringfellow’s King Mojo.

Both venues secured seminal gigs by artists that went on to become household names: Jimi Hendrix, The Kinks, The Yardbirds, The Who, Ike and Tina Turner, Pink Floyd. Sheffield of the 1960s was littered with cutting edge coffee bars like the famous Sidewalk on Chapel Walk that was the preserve of footballers and local musicians and renowned for its steak and kidney pies.

Record shops like Violet May (internet message boards are still alive with tales of the smoke-filled shop that used to sit just behind The Moor in the city centre) and Wilson Peck, where you’d have the option of a listening booth before making your vinyl purchase, became part of a Saturday afternoon pilgrimage as the city’s youth kept up with the charts and bought their guitars on tick.

Sixties Sheffield grew to become one of the UK’s most revered and varied after dark destinations in northern England.

But it didn’t start that way.

In the early Sixties The Sheffield Star inteviewed a teddy boy, asking him what he thought about the city. He said: “What is there to do in Sheffield? It’s a real dump of a place. There’s just nowhere to go apart from the pictures or a coffee bar. There’s no night life here at all.”

It all changed with the opening of the city’s first beat club, Club 60, the subterranean venue that paved the way for the early success of Sheffield’s first chart star, Jilly Crawford, its second, Dave Berry, and one of its biggest, Joe Cocker (then performing as Vance Arnold).

Though Peter Stringfellow was already running a forerunner to his legendary King Mojo in 1963, the Black Cat Club, it was his promotion of a sell-out Beatles show in early 1963 that really put his career into overdrive.

Tickets sold that well he had to move to a bigger venue, the Azena Ballroom in Gleadless. A near riot ensured as hundreds turned up without tickets and the gig entered the annals of Sheffield music legend.

Though the city centre felt like a ghost town by 11.15pm every evening – an 11.10pm bus inspector’s whistle told the public that the entire public transport fleet was about to leave for the four corners of the city – there was actually 24-hour parties happening years before the 1990s dance explosion.

All-nighters – with coffee the only stimulant on sale at the alcohol-free teenage club – were happening at the Esquire, which was on the first floor of the building now better known as the Leadmill in Sheffield, as far back as 1963. Peter Stringfellow said at the time: “We knew we were really getting full when the Spencer Davies Group played and the coffee bar floor collapsed.”

By the late Sixties the corporate discotheque invasion had begun in earnest and the DIY nature of the teenage scene had been all but killed off by the new Entertainments Licensing Act of 1967 which called time on unregulated venues like King Mojo.

Celebration of time and place

The Sheffield venues that still hold a special place for people today include King Mojo, The Esquire, The Cavendish, and The Locarno, all of which played a crucial role in the city’s music scene.

Dirty Stop Out’s Guide to 1960s Sheffield is being launched at a special King Mojo night at The Leadmill, November 23. Guests include Peter Stringfellow, Dave Berry, guitar legend Frank White, Joel White & The Esquire. Tickets £10 advance from www.leadmill.co.uk or on 0114 221 2828.

The book is published by ACM Retro and is available for £12.95 from www.acmretro.com and bookshops.